Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Chamchaude

"Molly, what are you doing this weekend," Nikki asked early last week.
"I'm going hiking," I answered, with a silent duh.
"Can I come?"
"Yes!"

Of course I had no idea where I wanted to go at this point, and since Grenoble is surrounded by mountains, just saying you are going hiking is vague to say the least. We enlisted another Canadian, Kevin, who also appreciates neature, and agreed we would do an overnighter. Then I sat down with my maps and had a good thunk, followed by an epiphany. We could start hiking from the center of Grenoble!

Just take a moment to reflect on how brilliant that is. The center. Of the city. No car, no problem. We would start there, and continue on into the mountains.

So bright and early Saturday morning, we started up the aftermentioned Bastille. It was a hard start, and we could already tell the day was going to be hot. Our efforts, however, were rewarded with a view after about 30 minutes.

Nikki enjoying the view from the Bastille
From the top of the Bastille we continued upward, thankfully in the tree, towards Mt Rachais. On the way, we these cool caves dug into the hill that were apparently part of the fortress - so that guards could switch posts without being seen. The cave turned into a flight of stairs headed downward towards Grenoble, but not wanting to waste precious vertical meters we didn't find out how far it went.

Kevin checks out the entrance to the caves 

Kevin found a cave to meditate in, and decided to stay there and become a hermit instead of hiking. (NOT!)
 We followed the trail upward, mercifully in the trees, and drew further and further away from Grenoble.
Looking back at Grenoble, the Bastille is on the edge of the ridge, looking pitifully small from the height we already had reached.
Nikki and Kevin enjoy the shade of the trees on the way down from Mt Rachais.
The trail continued down the ridge of Mt Rachais to the tiny village of Col de Vence where we bought ice creams from a woman who would clearly rather be enjoying her lunch than helping us. From there the trail zigzagged steeply upward towards Fort St. Eynard. The whole climb was in the trees, so it seemed to go on forever and the day got hotter and hotter. The panoramic view from the top was worth the sweat of the climb, although, ironically, there is a road to the top.

Panorama from Fort St. Eynard
We ate second lunch and explored the fort for a bit, scoffing at the fools who had driven up. Because what is more wonderful than climbing on your own two legs up to a view like that.
Nikki welcomes all the cars to the fort
The rest of the afternoon saw us following the trail across the top of the cliff the fort is located on and down to Sappy-en-Chartreuse. There we meet two jolly Frenchmen who were also headed for Chamchaude the next day, but were staying further up on the mountain. Around seven we finally reached the picturesque Auberge de Sarcenas where we spent the night. We made food on my camp stove just below the auberge, hungrily watching guests devouring salads and fois gras at the fancy restaurant. Later on we split a bottle of wine, watching the sunset and ponder the next day's goal: Chamchaude.

Mt. Chamchaude from just above Sappey-en-Chartreuse
The next morning started with two quiet kilometers to Col de Porte. After that we were surrounded by hikers - clearly Chamchaude is a popular goal. Most people seem to start from the parking lot a Col de Porte, but I like to think of our ascent as more hardcore since we actually started from Grenoble center!

From the parking lot the trail climbed steeply until, all of a sudden, we were above the trees and could see all the way back to Grenoble and across Vercors.

This mountain is too big... I guess we'll have to go and eat thistles
The rock formations on the mountain were incredible:

Cool looking rock
Towards the top, Nikki started to get nervous.

"What if I fall and die, guys?"

We were climbing pretty steeply, and the trail was loose and gravely. I told her I guessed it would probably hurt if you fell down the hill, but as long as you watched your footing you'd be fine.

Sometimes fears aren't that rational though.

A flock of crazy ravens above the trees. They were squaking and diving and circling for who knows what.
Nikki and the valley floor below. 
Although fear was clearly written across Nikki's face for the last hour of the climb, every time we asked if she wanted to turn or stop, she would just say, "No, I'm going to the top!". And she did :)

Nikki enjoying a well-earned lunch on top
The last few vertical to the top were reached by hand-over-handing up a small cliff. To our surprise, as we clambered over the edge of the cliff, we were greeted by the baa-baa of three sheep who clearly found this a wonderful place to graze.

Baa-baa? Baa-baa!
Like any good mountain in the alps, there was a cross on top:
Me on the mountain!
Nikki found the descent difficult. Basically she was really, really scared, and it took some coaxing to get her down. She really conquered her fear though, and deserves a lot of creds for going through with it.
Headed down through the forest.

We hiked down through the forest and out to the town of St. Pierre, where we had time for a stop at the boulangerie before the bus took us back to Grenoble.

In other news, it's 35 degrees and muggy as hell here. Oh, and I also bought a harmonica. And Kevin bought a ukelele. We're starting a band!

My sweet Blues harp
- The Wild Bazilchuk

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